Everyone who has ears

 Virginia Bluebells

Everyone who has ears should pay attention.   Matthew 13:9

Recently, I was at an extended care facility to visit a parishioner.  The front desk clerk pulled out the desk diary to find out where the person was.  The individual in question had been discharged from rehab back to home.

This made me remember my paternal grandfather who kept a diary.  I remember looking at it one time.  In it, he had recorded the temperature and barometric pressure for the day as well as if any visitors had come calling.

Both of these got me to thinking about how much my current attention is on things that I do, schedule, make, etc.  So I purchased a diary of sorts to begin writing daily observations.  Observations like: “It rained while I was walking home from rehearsal or Went to LaBagh Woods and saw the first blue bells blooming.”

Frequently, Jesus concluded his teaching with a call to listen.  His teaching invites us to receive what is being offered.  After all, we can only give what we have received.

Pax tecum.  +

Prayer for UMC General Conference

Instead renew the thinking in your mind by the Spirit. Ephesians 4:23


Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Every quadrennium (that’s United Methodist for every “4 years”), the General Conference gathers to discuss legislation and discern God’s continued call upon the Church. General Conference will be from May 10-20 in Portland Oregon.

Each annual conference elects an equal number of clergy and lay delegates. The number of delegates is determined by annual conference total church membership. In total, Northern Illinois conference elected 16 lay and clergy delegates.

Several important pieces of legislation will be considered. Three changes are being proposed in regards to ordained leadership. First, the ordination process for clergy would seek to re-institute probationary ordination. Two constitutional changes are being proposed. First, the office of bishop would no longer be for life and security of appointment for elders would be removed.

Organizationally, the United States would become a central conference with its own Book of Discipline. Currently, The United Methodist Church has General Discipline that sets policy and church law for the Global Church; except that current central conferences can “make such rules and regulations within their boundaries including adaptations of the General Discipline.” This is an important proposal as it would allow the United States’ Church to adapt the General Discipline to conditions in the United States.

The General Conference will continue to debate the Church’s ministry to GLBTQ persons. The Connectional Table (a broad representative body of the whole church) has recommended removing all prohibitive language against GLBTQ persons in relation to ministry and ordination. Still, others are proposing more stringent penalties for those who violate the current prohibitions in the General Discipline.

A four-year, $611 million budget is being proposed and a proposal for a digital hymnal will be considered. Over 70 social justice petitions will be considered.

No doubt you will be hearing about this while the conference is meeting in May. As your pastor, I invite you to pray for your church for 60 days beginning on March 31. If you would like a guided prayer resource, the Upper Room has created this website and resource: www.60daysofprayer.org. Check it out.

In addition, I invite the whole congregation to a General Conference Prayer Vigil, May 11 from 7-8 pm in the Sanctuary.


Christ’s Servant:

Joseph A. Johnson




Faith, Christian Principle, and the Election Season

Even though we are Roman citizens, they beat us publicly without first finding us guilty of a crime, and they threw us in prison. Acts 16:27

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Grace and Peace to you.

On March 15, the people of the state of Illinois will be holding their general primary election. The New York Times ran an article on November 11, 2014 hailing the last midterm election as the lowest turnout since 1942. Of available voters in 2014, only thirty-six percent voted, compared to 33.9% in 1942. The reasons for the low turnout were apathy, anger and frustration at the relentlessly negative tone of the campaigns.

A reading of the book of Acts will give us an understanding of the early church’s expectations of government. The quote from Acts came about because Paul and Silas have been thrown into prison for Paul’s act of casting out a spirit from a slave girl who brought her owners money. (Acts 16:16-24) Paul’s expectation of the government was justice: a fair trial as well as a public apology. He got neither, only escorted out of the city.

The Church’s social principles hold Christians responsible to God for social and political life. Nowhere is this truer than in a government by the people and for the people. Demographics suggest that the U.S. population is 80% Christian. This demographic reveals many U.S. Christians have abdicated their responsibility. One of the easiest ways to participate in political life is by voting.

As your pastor, I want to encourage you to participate in the political system as your service to God and to your country. We are called to support policies and programs that are deemed to be just and to oppose unjust policies and programs. Justice is defined as those rights that are due all citizens. The church defines these to include most of the Amendments of the US Constitution as well as the rights to adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, and health care.

I think Albert Einstein said it best: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them and do nothing.”

Just as Brother Paul challenged the injustice of his day, may we do the same.

Christ’s Servant:

The Reverend Joseph A. Johnson


Tithing One On

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In a  Fortune  interview, Google co-founder Larry Page discussed his company’s early days: “You have this fear of failing and of doing something new, which is very natural. In order to do stuff that matters, you need to overcome that.”

Our lives are filled with “stuff that matters”: children, spouses, and careers. Mr. Page tutors us to get over our fears of failing and doing new things, because if we don’t we will never do the stuff that matters. The co-founder of Google was not the first to teach overcoming our fears. The writer of Hebrews called his congregation and audience to look to the examples of our faith (Abraham, Moses, Deborah, Rahab, etc) in order to overcome their fears and follow God’s call. The appeal to our spiritual ancestors provides a template and model for our faith.

For the month of February, I am inviting you, the church, to “Tithe One On.” Try tithing for one month as a faithful response to God. This may seem daunting, challenging and downright impossible. Registered nurse and motivational speaker, Donna Cardillo encourages us to not fight the fear of a new challenge, but to acknowledge it. When we stretch ourselves, fear will automatically be part of the equation because we will be stepping out of our comfort zones.

One church member commented on the trial tithe:

“A trial tithing experience is a wonderful way to test the waters, while opening one’s life to so many blessings. Amazingly—and I truly mean this—amazingly, there was always enough. It did make me more aware of how I was spending. I acknowledged that I was spending more frivolously than I had thought and reined in some of that to be able to meet the tithe.”

“Tithing One On” will require a change in our spending habits. Many of us have kept food logs, exercise logs and emotional logs. Maybe it’s time for a spending log, or better yet, a God log. The God log will call our attention to the many ways God has blessed us with material resources and how we utilize those material resources. Bless God after each log entry, even if it is for an unexpected expense. And bless God when you give your first tithe.

So church…Let’s tithe one on in February!

Christ’s Servant,

Rev. Joseph A. Johnson


Your redemption is near. Luke 21:28

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Grace and Peace from the One who is and who was and who is to come. The Worship Committee has been working diligently over the past few months to assist the congregation explore visually the major themes of Advent. The first thing you will notice as you enter the sanctuary is a large canvas (4’ x 4’)
with a fig tree that has been created from the greeting cards and photos given by the congregation (photo on page 6). Jesus uses the parable of the fig tree to remind us of the dependability of
God bringing about a just and righteous kingdom. This work of art invites us to imagine our future residing with God; and particularly with the return of Christ. The appointed scriptures for the Advent/
Christmas Season exhort us to deep spiritual work. Such work seems impossible in the hectic days to come. Yet such work is necessary for the Christian community if we are to receive the babe born in Bethlehem. Anticipating God’s future is the first spiritual task given. This task requires us to let go of things as they are so that we can receive the way things will be. The danger in this task is living in fear or in a state of insobriety.

Second, we must prepare ourselves for God’s future. John the Baptist reminds us that this will require a change of heart and our desire for God’s forgiveness. John likens this to preparing the way for the Lord.

Third, we must wait for the Lord’s coming. When the people asked John what they should do, he counseled ethical living until Christ comes.

Fourth, we must receive God’s future from the lowliest and most unlikely of places: Bethlehem, and a virgin. Like Elizabeth, we will celebrate with Mary.

Finally, like the shepherds and angels we will glorify and praise God when Christ comes! We will sing, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

O come, O come, Emmanuel.